Unbound (All Good Things #1) Available on Amazon/Smashwords/Unknown (All Good Things #2) coming soon.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Few of my Favourite Things: 2013 Wrap Up

Did you know that gratitude and worry are incompatible? Apparently the act of focussing on what we have and the pleasure it brings actually diminishes anxiety and increases feelings of satisfaction. For this reason, when I find myself fixating on the "what ifs" of the future, I try to think about what I'm grateful for. So, in the spirit of gratitude here are my favourite literary moments of 2013.

1. Self-publishing Unbound (All Good Things #1): I didn't set out to self-publish Unbound in 2013. In fact, I had begun to send out queries again to select agents when a friend suggested I look into self-publishing. I did and I haven't looked back. I'm so grateful for what I've learned in the last few months. There is a whole world of bloggers, bibliophiles, and authors out there that I may never have known about had I stayed in query mode. On that note, I'm also very grateful to my friend and editor, Sonia, who still has no idea what she volunteered for (voluntold?) and how much it meant to me. 

2. Discovering Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor and Park and Fangirl shot straight to the top of my list of favourites for 2013. In addition to her rich characters and great dialogue, what I love about Rowell is that she is unique. Rowell writes across boundaries and categories and does not seem exclusive to any one of them. Fangirl was about a girl in college, but nobody seemed to be arguing about whether this was YA or NA. And although Eleanor and Park is considered contemporary, it had such a different feel than the other YA contemporaries on the market. Rowell has reminded me that I must only strive to be best version of myself. 

3. The Raven Boys: This book did something to me. I won't bore you again with my love of Stiefvater's evocative writing. Just read this. 

4. This review and this one and this one: I'm a new author and the self-doubt that came along with sending Unbound out into the world has been crippling on occasion. Although I am certain I have a lot to learn and there is much room to grow, these reviews gave me a few moments of peace and satisfaction. Not to worry, the self-doubt came back quickly. I'm told this is normal for writers. Oh goodie. 

5. This guest blogI had such a great time writing my first guest post. It also forced me to learn how to use (and pronounce) gifs (sort of). Look Ma! I'm just like the cool kids (sort of). 

5. Unknown (All Good Things #2): I'm grateful to be writing again and feeling motivated by the story I want to tell. It's so important for me to remember how rewarding the writing process can be, without all of the editing and revising and marketing that comes later. Those things can be rewarding too, but in a different way. For now, I'm just thankful that a part of me believes this is only the beginning. 

Friday, 27 December 2013

My New Year's Resolutions

I know. I know. You don't care. And everybody talks about resolutions at this time of the year and few people really follow through. Still, I'm a traditionalist and it doesn't feel right to head into 2014 without having set a few goals for myself.

1. Watch Dr. Who: I was a big Dr. Who fan as a child. When I was about ten years old I wrote letters to the president of the UK Dr. Who fan club. He sent me a recording of the new Dr. Who theme song and for awhile, we talked plot twists, new doctors, and Daleks. However, despite strong endorsements from people I know, I just haven't gotten around to watching the new series. Until now. 2014 will be my year of the Doctor.

2. Read more books: I always wish there was more time to read. While at work I fantasize about being at home, reading. And then while at home, after the wee one is in bed, I catch myself checking Facebook, or emails, or fiddling about on the internet. This year I'm going to work really hard to skip over the pretend productivity I engage in on my laptop and head straight for what I really want to do. Which is read (but also see #1 and #3).

3. Finish Unknown: I started Unknown shortly after I finished writing Unbound. I just couldn't get Rachel and Eaden out of my head. And Unknown kept writing itself when I was trying to sleep, or drive or run. But life has interfered several times since then and it remains half-formed. Now that Unbound is out in the world, I'm going to finish Unknown with a goal to publish it in 2014. I'm also hoping my dear friend will edit again while she's still on maternity leave.

4. Write every day: I'm hoping that #3 will be be a big part of this particular resolution, but my writing hiatus after my son was born has left me feeling a bit rusty when it comes to word retrieval. And I'm starting to imagine a future where writing is as much a part of my life as my other job, the one I actually get paid for. I can't tell you how exciting it is to imagine that this is only the beginning.

5. Practice acceptance: I can be very hard on myself. It has taken me years to realize that this isn't a good thing. And sending Unbound out to be judged by the world has done nothing to diminish my inner critic. Instead, my inner critic nods sagely at negative reviews as if to say, "See? I TOLD you it was rubbish." So in 2014 I am committed to letting Unbound be exactly what it is to whomever stumbles across it and to stop imagining I have any control over what others think of it, and by extension, me.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Another Book Review

Merry Christmas. A book review from We Live and Breathe Books.


Friday, 20 December 2013

A Holiday Excerpt from Unbound (All Good Things #1)

That day, the first time I saw him, we hadn’t stayed at the park for very long. My mother had grudgingly begun her overseas Christmas shopping that afternoon, hoping to package up and ship off the gifts for her Scottish in-laws ahead of the holiday rush. Thoroughly uninterested in helping her pick out pyjamas for my cousin Dawn, I trailed behind her as she impartially flipped through racks of polyester nightgowns. With my eyes squeezed tightly shut and one hand stretched out in front of me, I used the belt of my mother’s winter coat like a lifeline. Fumbling along cheerfully, I was pretending I was blind.

Eventually growing tired of my game – mostly because my mother had stood in one place for so long – but also because my arm was starting to ache from holding it out in front of me, I let my eyes slide open and turning my head slightly, was stunned into stillness.

Past the racks of children’s clothes, near the entrance of the department store, lay a Christmas village built completely out of gingerbread. Almost as tall as I was, the walls of the houses were stacked upon cotton candy snowdrifts – the crystallized sugar a fair mimic of ice warmed by the sun. The warm smell of cinnamon wafted under my nose as I gazed in wonder at the chocolate wafer streets that had been patterned like cobblestones and lined with candystick light posts. At the end of the street, a licorice car was stopped at a cherry red lollipop stop sign.

Captivated, I drifted towards the village, staring at the snow-capped peaks on the roof. Was it icing? Tentatively, I reached out with one finger to touch the outer edge of the sugary wall and stopped, suddenly aware of the slack in my other hand. Looking back, I stared uncomprehending at the tan belt that lay on the floor like a sick snake, no longer attached to my mother’s coat. No longer attached to my mother. She was gone.

Looking around wildly, stomach clenched and eyes stinging with soon- to be- shed-tears, my hands fluttered up from my sides like two startled birds from a hedge. With a sickening lurch, I realized I was alone.  I caught a glimpse that day, understood the fragile wall that stands between our sense of security and anonymity. Between being loved and being annihilated by loneliness.

Seconds before I melted down into a hysterical, I want-my-mommy kind of panic that only young children are capable of, I felt a hand rest comfortingly on my head. Gazing up, I saw a man with kind grey eyes staring down at me. He wore leather gloves that were soft on my hair and he smelled really good, like new wool and musk.

Looking back, I realize I should have been scared. Instead, I’d admired the long tartan scarf he wore loosely wrapped around his neck, underneath his long dark coat. I had almost reached out to touch it as he knelt down beside me, wondering if it was as soft as it looked. The man with the grey eyes that smiled, even though his mouth did not, said, “Don’t be afraid,” and I realized I wasn’t.

Something about his deep, warm voice was familiar and I thought maybe he knew me, or maybe he was a teacher at my school, because I wasn’t really feeling shy, like I usually did.  Instead, it felt like he liked me. I think it was because he looked right at me, and not through me, like most adults do with kids.

As I looked silently back at him, he reached for my hand and placed it firmly in his own. We walked to the counter of the department store together, this tall man with the nice-smelling leather gloves and kind eyes. He waited his turn in line and then smiled at the clerk and inquired politely if she might make an announcement.

Glancing up at him, I’d felt completely safe, as if nothing had ever been more natural than to be hand in hand with a stranger in the mall. I would have left with him, if he’d asked me to. 

Instead, he had leaned down to me and whispered, “Stay safe, Rachel, I’ll be watching for you,” and then he walked away, leaving me with the department store clerk. She looked very disappointed that he didn’t stay.

But the reason I remember that day so clearly, the reason I think I remember this at all, is because I am sure, certain in fact, that I never said a word. 

I never told him my name.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

What I'm Thinking About Today 2.0

1. Bad behaviour: So I'm new to marketing and self-promotion and I'm learning as I go, just like everyone else. I have a solid amount of respect for writers who hang their creation out there for the world to see and judge. Doing so has made me feel intensely vulnerable and I understand how neurotic people can get in response to negative reviews. Seriously, I'm there. But I'm really struggling to understand  the intrusive and unprofessional behaviour I've seen on the part of some authors. And I'm worried in this world of self-publishing it's going to get worse before it gets better. Perhaps out of ignorance and perhaps because there are no well established boundaries that keep people in check. And I think that a few authors behaving badly makes it harder for those who respect professional boundaries (as best as we can) to engage and build relationships in this post-publishing house world.

 2. Eleanor and Park: Warning. More gushing about Rainbow Rowell imminent. I am so in love with this book right now. I love Eleanor and Park as characters, I love Rainbow Rowell's writing, and I love how real this story feels. Eleanor and Park captures how intensely dramatic teen angst can be without condescension or hyperbole. It's lovely and painful and genuine in a way that so many books try to be and aren't. I feel like the book gods have called my bluff in response to my mutterings about not finding stories that moved me. Rainbow Rowell and Maggie Stiefvater are my new heroes.

3. Holidays: I have my first holiday Christmas party tonight. And it's pretty much all a jumble of work and social gatherings from here on in. This part of the holidays is like looking down the first hill on a roller coaster. It's exhilarating and a bit scary and so, so fun. And about two and a half weeks from now I'll look back and wonder how it all went by so fast.

4. Mental Health: I'm concerned about our understanding of mental health. And by "our" I suppose I mean the general understanding of mental health in North America. I'm seeing a lot of messages that equate mental health disorders to physical health disorders and while I appreciate the parallel, I do think we are talking about apples and oranges. Particularly I'm concerned about the implicit message that depression is a disease and people have no part in it's treatment, maintenance, intensity or frequency. I'm worried that in our efforts to discuss mental health without shame we have externalized it as something genetic and inalterable without prescription medication. And I'm concerned that means that we're going to have a generation who feel helpless and hopeless about their own health, mental and otherwise.

5. Supernatural versus paranormal versus urban fantasy? Gillian Berry, the person behind the blog Writer of Wrongs reposted this on twitter the other day. Very helpful. Except now I'm even more unsure what genre Unbound (All Good Things #1) falls into. I think perhaps it's more supernatural than paranormal and perhaps even borders on urban fantasy. And YA or NA? I don't know. Rachel is eighteen, but  I certainly don't think she fits into the NA category as things stand now (so. much. sex). It has always felt YA as I was writing it, but I didn't want to make her a pseudo-mature 16 year old. If you've read Unbound, I'd be happy to hear what you think.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Happy Endings

My son loves the song Puff the Magic Dragon right now. He sings it every night and only gets about a third of the words right. It's adorable. So I pulled up the song on youtube so he could hear the original Peter, Paul and Mary version. Do you know it? I had to leave the room by the end. I was sobbing. It's such a sad song. And what surprised me was that there was no happy ending. The dragon goes into his cave and…that's it. He's lonely and no longer brave and Jackie Paper is probably an accountant in Ohio who has lost his soul.

I've been wracking my brain trying to come up with other examples of unhappy endings in pop culture or children's entertainment and…I've got nothing. Instead, I'm starting to suspect that slowly and  methodically, happy endings have taken over. Is it a coincidence that the much-mocked generation of entitled young adults have been raised on stories where everything worked out in the end? Maybe I'm over thinking this, but I'm wondering if the hullabaloo (ahem, a literary term) over Allegiant might be in some small way connected to our inability to tolerate unhappiness. The sheer lack of exposure people have had to things…not working out. Real life is ambiguous and uncertain. Sure, we can slog on believing our happily ever after is just around the corner, but on a day to day basis, it's a work in progress isn't it?

Maybe we need more unhappy endings to normalize the idea that life isn't fair. And to increase our sense of wonder and gratitude when things do work out in our favour?

Your turn. Could we all do with a dose of ambivalent endings?